TNF: Dolphins-Jaguars Betting Preview
The first game of Week 3 brings us a matchup of two teams from the Sunshine State: The Miami Dolphins visiting Gardner Minshew and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jaguars will be looking to continue their surprising start to the season, upsetting Indianapolis as 8.5-point underdogs and taking Tennessee to the wire, only losing because of a last-second field goal in Nashville. Gardner “The Moustache” Minshew, the Jacksonville quarterback, has played spectacularly, tossing three touchdowns in each of the first two games, averaging 256 passing yards per game and picking up 19 rushing yards per game with his feet for good measure.
Minshew will be facing off against the original facial-hair king of the NFL, Ryan Fitzpatrick (did you know he went to Harvard?), leading the Dolphins, currently 0-2 looking for their first win of 2020 under head coach Brian Flores.
Fitzpatrick is coming off a 328 passing yard, two-touchdown, no-interception day against the vaunted Buffalo defense. Fitzpatrick’s play is volatile, but his “turning back into a pumpkin” game typically doesn’t occur until 5-6 games into the season, so I don’t think he’s due for his annual 4 interception game just quite yet.
The teams are mirror images of each other: They both have “gunslinger” quarterbacks; they both have young, promising wide receiver corps, committees at running back, questionable offensive lines, and defenses that are in transition.
The trenches are where football games are won, and this will be a weakness against weakness. The offensive lines of both teams are bad. The Dolphins are starting rookies at two spots, and Giants castoff Ereck Flowers at left guard. Their only source of stability is former Patriot Ted Karras, who plays center for the team. The Jaguars offensive line returns all five starters from 2019, but the issue is that those starters weren’t very good: Pro Football Focus ranked them 29th in the NFL last year.
The strength of the Dolphins is their back seven on defense. After extending cornerback Xavien Howard, they signed cornerback Byron Jones in the open market and used one of their first-round picks on slot cornerback Noah Igbinogene. Eric Rowe, their starting strong safety, has more often than not graded above average by Pro Football Focus. Linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts joined Flores when he moved south to Miami from New England and are familiar as the “traffic cops” of Flores’ defense.
This will be a much harder test for Minshew as the Indianapolis and Titans secondaries were missing several starters against Jacksonville. The Jacksonville pass-catching corps of DJ Chark, Lavishka Shenault, and Keelan Cole will be tested for the first time this season against a very good secondary.
The Jaguars’ defense has had a long fall from the 2017 team that was historically dominant. Rookie cornerback CJ Henderson has been solid for the first two weeks. Still, the team is otherwise devoid of talent at all three levels, largely because the team traded almost all of their defensive contributors (Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Jalen Ramsey) away for draft picks or let them leave in free agency (AJ Bouye), in preparation to tank.
The Dolphins may be rebuilding, but the two positions they don’t need help at are at wide receiver and tight end. Preston Williams and Devante Parker are both above-average wide receivers and Mike Gesicki enters his third year at tight end looking to build on promising production his first two years. All look solid and should work with Fitzpatrick to beat up on an easily burnable Jacksonville defense lacking a pass rush and coverage players, which should also minimize their liability at offensive line.
Neither team’s running game has produced anything of value in the last two weeks, and both continue to be committees.
Situationally, the pressure to win will lie squarely on Miami here. The Dolphins are 0-2. Only 11% of the teams who start 0-3 in the NFL go on to make the playoffs that season, and worse for their prospects, the AFC looks absolutely loaded this year: The Chiefs, Ravens, Bills, Steelers, and Patriots all look very formidable at the top-tier, and that’s without looking at all of the mid-tier teams that have very solid squads such as Tennessee, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Cleveland.
The only teams in the AFC that are really bottom-barrel are the Jets and the Bengals, but even the Bengals look to have life under quarterback Joe Burrow. That said, the Dolphins 0-2 record could be considered with a grain of salt, because they have already faced two likely playoff teams in the Patriots and the Bills in their first two games. They’re probably better than their record.
Conversely, the Jaguars entered the year with the highest projected odds to have the worst record in the league by oddsmakers (+250). They come back home to face a desperate Dolphins team after playing two big games against division opponents and being a field goal away from being 2-0.
I think Miami +3 is the bet here and I think the lack of pass-rushing, strength of quarterbacks, and receiving weapons that the two teams both possess make me like the over 48.5 as well.
The Picks: Dolphins +3, over 48.5